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New England Sports Museum a Repository of History

September 13, 1987|KEN FRANCKLING | United Press International

BOSTON — Sports is a hands-on activity and so is a visit to the New England Sports Museum, an ambitious young repository for the region's rich athletic history.

--Take a picture of your companion, wearing one of Carlton Fisk's old Red Sox shirts and swinging one of Carl Yastrzemski's bats.

--Push the screen on its video jukebox to call up any one of 10 highlights of great sporting moments.

And what choices. There's Joan Benoit's Olympic women's marathon win; Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie throwing his "Hail Mary" touchdown pass to beat Miami, and Marvin Hagler knocking out Thomas Hearns in Las Vegas in 1985.

Or maybe the 1980 Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid when the United States won Olympic gold in hockey; or the Boston Red Sox victory over the Angels in last year's American League championship series.

--Sit down at an individual cubicle, and you can watch tapes of sporting events dating back to the 1930s. Name a thriller, and chances are its 14,000 hours of sports footage probably includes it.

The museum, which opened in June along the Charles River several miles from downtown Boston, prides itself in collecting data and memorabilia from all eras and all sports in all six New England states, from baseball to hockey, from horseshoes to crew.

"Our goal is to be a clearinghouse for sports information as well as an exhibition center," says curator Dick Johnson. "We know that right now, we're in the minor league of sports museums, but like the minor leaguers, we have the same dream of being in the big leagues."

The idea for the non-profit museum started 10 years ago. For the next 7 years, it existed only in supporters' imaginations and in the memorabilia accumulating in their basements. The city donated the current site in 1982. It required a 3-year, $250,000 renovation.

The president and chairman of the museum's board of trustees is former Boston Celtic Dave Cowens. Hockey great Bobby Orr and baseball immortal Ted Williams number among its trustees.

The museum has amassed such an accumulation of material that it has outgrown its 2,500 square feet of exhibition space. It is lobbying to make three floors of the old Customs House tower in downtown Boston a permanent exhibition space. If that happens, it would keep the current building as office and archive space.

"Our regional focus is important," Cowens said. "There's a regional loyalty to most of the professional teams. New England is distinctive in that people in other parts of the country think in terms of their own state, not regions."

Stroll among the exhibition cases. You'll see Cowens' No. 18 Celtics jersey, all-pro lineman John Hannah's larger No. 73 Patriots jersey and his helmet. Above them hang Marvin Hagler's old boxing gloves.

Across the room, you'll find Boston Mayor Ray Flynn's No. 14 jersey from his basketball days, when the Providence College Friars were 1963 NIT champions and Flynn was tournament MVP.

There's a bat from the first World Series in 1903, used by Fred Parent of the old Boston Pilgrims. Nearby is a hockey stick autographed by the 1938-39 Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. The museum even owns the original blueprints for Fenway Park.

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